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The SNP goal is receding into the distance

Copyright Universal News and Sport Scotland

Did anything happen this week of consequence? Nicola Sturgeon turned up in the Scottish Parliament and said something about delaying indyref2. If this meant that we would have this referendum in a couple of years’ time, then what she said would have been of small consequence. What does it fundamentally matter if we have to go through all that divisiveness again in one year or two or even three? But the moment has passed when Sturgeon’s latest threat matters very much or indeed her withdrawal or delay of her threat. It is this that matters far more than anything she might or might not have said.

The biggest problem we have in Scottish politics, apart from the continual threat implicit or explicit to break up our country, is that there is an almost complete lack of understanding on the part of the anti-SNP opposition of what helps us oppose the SNP and what hinders us. There is a lack of understanding of the fundamentals which means that even our success happens more or less accidentally.

The Scottish establishment, which includes nearly all journalists and nearly all politicians, agree with Nicola Sturgeon about nearly everything. This is particularly the case with Labour. SNP and Labour supporters agree with each other on nearly everything apart from independence. They each want to spend more public money and give more power to Scotland. They each think that the root of all evil begins with T and ends with ories.

Even Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives agree with Sturgeon about many things, but most especially about the EU.  Davidson apparently thinks that the increase in Conservative support in the past two years is due entirely to the outstanding nature of her campaigning and the fact that her Scottish Conservatives are far nicer than the English variety. There may indeed be something in this. She has her merits. But she is also missing something.

Big changes in political support are not so much due to the personality of politicians as fundamental changes in society. Ruth Davidson still thinks that voting for Brexit was a disaster and if we really must leave the EU we must leave as little as possible. This means that she essentially doesn’t grasp why Pro UK support in Scotland has been rising and support for independence has been falling. The trouble is that hardly anyone else in the Scottish establishment gets this either. It is for this reason that much that is written keeps missing the point or rather is even unaware of the point that is missed.

As I have been arguing since well before the EU referendum it is crucial to understand that Brexit makes the Pro UK argument easier and the SNP case harder. I have listed the reasons for this previously at some length. Really what else of fundamental significance has happened in the past two years? Do people think that all those SNP supporters just deserted their party because they got tired of them? No. Even if Scottish journalists can rarely see it, ordinary Scots came quickly to realise that leaving the EU was going to be one of those life changing events. It added uncertainty in a way that hardly anything else has done in the past decades. Well there is only so much uncertainty that most people want to deal with. How about adding the uncertainty of breaking up our country? How do you fancy both leaving the EU and leaving the UK? Scottish independence became “Operation Market Garden 2”. Nicola Sturgeon’s plan amounted to parachuting behind enemy lines, dodging crack SS divisions and capturing and holding a bridge while armed only with red berets. Sorry Nicola we tried that. It was called a bridge too far.

Ordinary Scots now view indyref2 as something for fanatics. It looks impossibly risky. This isn’t going to change in two years. It will take at least a decade for the implications of Brexit to be fully felt. It fundamentally changes the direction that Britain has taken.

There were two paths diverging in the “yellow wood”. We could have stayed in the EU. The ultimate destination of the EU path is not known, but it is perfectly possible to believe that it will succeed in its task of ever closer union and that this will bring with it peace and prosperity. We chose a different path, not least because we didn’t like the EU route even if it was going to succeed. It just didn’t suit our nature as a country. But just as the EU route can lead to peace and prosperity, so too can our path lead to an excellent destination and one more suited to both our own needs and the needs of our EU neighbours. The problem is that far too many disappointed Remain supporters are simply unable to see the excellent possibilities that Brexit gives us.  Some of them treacherously would like to see Britain fail just so as to point out that that they were right.

Many SNP supporters could see the attractions of Brexit. Scotland, even if still a part of the UK, looks a lot more “independent” outside the EU than in. It is for this reason that some SNP Brexiteers have become disillusioned with arch Remainer Sturgeon and have ceased to support an SNP that promises to give up newly won Scottish powers to the EU and which ultimately would subsume an independent Scotland into a federal EU.

Brexit meant that Nicola and friends went skinny dipping only to find that the wicked Tories had stolen their clothes. Tory Brexiteers were able to put forward arguments that appealed to Scottish nationalists in the same way that Tony Blair had been able to capture many centre and right of centre voters. People like Michael Gove and Boris Johnson put forward arguments that appealed to people who wanted Parliament to be more accountable and democratic and who thought sovereignty mattered. The arguments they made in 2016 were similar to those that Sturgeon and Salmond made in 2014. These arguments were not the same of course. The EU is a very different thing from the UK. The EU is not an independent sovereign nation state.  But that is what the EU wants to become. This meant that we had the paradox of Sturgeon and the SNP defending a union (the EU) and arguing for its benefits, telling us how dangerous it would be to leave, while we had Tory Brexiteers telling us how Brexit would give us freedom, sovereignty and at least more independence. It isn’t altogether surprising that some SNP supporters preferred an independent UK outside of the EU than a dependent Scotland in it. It is this that left Nicola naked on the riverbank even more angry than usual.

More crucially however, it is vital to recognise that the condition for the possibility of Scottish independence was always the fact that the UK remained in the EU. Even those who want Scottish independence recognise that Scotland’s prosperity depends on maintaining a very close relationship with the former UK. We have three hundred years of shared laws, economic and family relations. If you put Scotland on a diverging path from the former UK, then naturally the distance between us politically and economically will increase dramatically over the years. This changes the calculation that everyone in Scotland makes in their head about the advantages and disadvantages of independence. Do I really want quite such a gap between London and Edinburgh? How would that affect my job and the prospects of my family? This is a fundamental change, not a transient change based on the popularity or unpopularity of a politician. Put simply Brexit makes Scottish independence less attractive even to those who may be tempted. The floating Nats therefore have left the cause, while the fanatics have sunk to the bottom of the pond.

From all of this it follows logically that Pro UK people should support us leaving the EU as completely as possible. The more the UK leaves the EU, the more divergent Scotland’s path would become if it chose independence. If we were to stay in the EU’s Single Market, or the Custom’s Union or anything else then the risk of Scottish independence would precisely thereby be increased.

I don’t think some Pro UK people even realise how dangerous our situation was a couple of years ago. The SNP won all but three of the seats in the 2015 Election. Keep that up and they would in time have got indyref2. Keep that up and they might have won it. That I think was our choice. Stay in the EU and face the break-up of Britain or leave the EU and keep our country intact.

We needed a game changer. We got it. Now some people who think they are clever want to give it up.

Just about a year ago I returned from holiday to a string of messages from Pro UK people complaining that I been arguing for Brexit and now look what I had done. There was panic. Sturgeon was continually on the television. There was an idea that she might hold an immediate unofficial indyref and that she might win it. Many Pro UK people were terribly pessimistic. I kept writing about the fundamentals. Short term noise can change polls, but such change does not last. Our position had been strengthened immeasurably and time would show this to be the case. But Pro UK pessimism ruled for a while until the logic of the position became clear. But even now far too few Pro UK Scots are willing or able to follow this logic from assumption to conclusion.

Sturgeon kept making threats. She wanted a special deal for Scotland that would keep us in the EU while the other parts of the UK left. This would have amounted to independence lite. But anyway she would have retained independence heavy for a later day and would have been able to show her supporters that she was taking steps towards it. There was then a vote in the Scottish Parliament for indyref2. Surely no-one would dare say “No” to the mighty Scottish Parliament. If anyone dared the Scottish people would go ballistic and support for independence would increase.

All those “Remain” journalists, bitter at losing their beloved EU were somehow eager that Sturgeon would punish the English for Brexit. I kept saying that Brexit was our friend and would help the Pro UK cause. Almost no-one believed me.

I think Brexit will bring advantages, but it doesn’t fundamentally matter. It still locks the UK together.  There will at some point be a recession, but we will become a country like Japan, Australia.  Just as with them we will relearn some fundamental lessons. You don’t need to be ruled by someone else to trade with them. Prosperity does not depend on being part of the European Union or any other trading bloc. If it did Australia and Japan would be poor. Instead most of the EU is poor.

A Japanese or an Australian can feel that they are internationalists without wanting to create either an Asian Union where they are ruled from Beijing or an Australasian Union where they are ruled from Jakarta. Internationalism is about nation states cooperating rather than merging and thereby ceasing to exist. Neither is it nationalistic for an Australian to wish to maintain his nation state’s sovereignty and prevent undemocratic rule from abroad. If this were nationalistic then the word “nationalism” would apply to virtually every nation state in the world and so would drop out of usage. If everyone is a nationalist then, no-one is.

The SNP strategy is now in tatters. They had a vote in the Scottish Parliament, but this has now been superseded by the General Election. If the Scottish electorate wanted indyref2, then we would have expected the SNP share of the vote to increase. We would have expected them to retain all their seats and perhaps gain more. Instead they lost a large share of the vote and a large number of seats. Whatever else the SNP have, they no longer have a mandate for indyref2. We have just tested the theory that saying “No” to Scots leads to a rising of the clans and a temper tantrum that makes independence inevitable. We have discovered that Scots in fact are grownups who are able to discern what is in our long term interest. We have learned that Theresa May can keep telling the SNP that they will have to wait for as long as she likes. Sturgeon kept making threats, but they have been shown to be empty. She has become a Scottish doll. You open it up just to find another still more angry than the first. But the whole thing is empty just a piece of kitsch picked up on the Royal Mile, the sort of thing that most Scots find vaguely embarrassing.  For the moment Scottish independence is a dead issue.

The only thing we have to worry about is that the present Government falls. There is no need for this to happen. It could happily go on for years with the DUP votes. But a leadership challenge to Theresa May might force another General Election. It just needs a few MPs to put their loyalty to the EU above their loyalty to our country and we might face another election.

The danger we face is that it is now obvious that Jeremy Corbyn would have happily made a deal with the SNP. Even with considerably fewer seats than the Conservatives he wanted to try to form a Government. How could he have done so without the SNP MPs?

This is really the only way Sturgeon can get her indyref2 any time soon. We were within a whisker of this happening in June. Just a few more Labour seats would have put Corbyn over the line where he could have ruled so long as he made a deal with the SNP. I kept warning people about this, but “Pro UK” Labour people cared more about their party winning seats than stopping indyref2.

So if there is another General Election I will make the same argument. Pro UK Scots should avoid Labour as the most likely outcome of a Labour victory is indyref2.

But I will give Labour a free argument. They can make the point that the one thing that is preventing a Labour Government with an absolute majority is that too many Scots vote for the SNP. If people like Mhairi Black really wanted socialism they would encourage their constituents to vote for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. They are far more likely to get it in this way than by voting for the SNP. The UK is closer to a Far Left Government than we ever have been before. True socialism is in reach. Not some wishy washy Tony Blair style social democracy, but rather the real deal. The only thing that is stopping this not only in Scotland, but the UK as a whole is the SNP.

In this way the UK is reintroducing two party politics. My argument will be about stopping Labour because I think socialism makes all of us poorer and less free. My evidence for this will be ever instance of socialism in the history of the world. But Labour supporters now have raw red meat steaks thrown to them by Mr Corbyn. It doesn’t appeal to me, but I can see how true believers in socialism are enthused. The smaller parties, including the Lib Dems and the SNP are going to get squeezed. While the rest of us debate about the merits of the free market versus Mr Corbyn’s first five year plan, whatever the SNP or the Lib Dems might have to say begins to look irrelevant, even quaint.

I think it is vital that we avoid a far left Labour Government, but it may be that the youth of today have to learn this lesson for themselves. It’s like touching the stove. No matter how many times you tell a child that they mustn’t touch it, you just know that they won’t learn the lesson until they do. At some point we will have to endure a Labour Government. Perhaps it would be better if we went for full on socialism rather than the watered down version. At least that way the failure will be clear sooner. Everyone will have touched the stove and we can get another Tory Government to fix Labour’s mess.

That’s fine just so long as the price of Labour’s mess does not include Scottish independence. If Corbyn granted indyref2 and bankrupted the UK with his socialism, it might well be that Scots would vote to leave just to get away from him.

There is nothing much left to talk about in Scottish politics. I may well take a break from this topic. I am uninterested in the day to day minutiae of the Scottish Parliament. So until I can think of something new and interesting to say about Scottish politics, I will have to look for other things to write about. This will at least enable this blog to tick along. But for the moment I can summarise where I think we are in Scottish politics in the following way.

Strategically I believe it is vital that the present Government at least gets us out of the EU before there is another election. This leaves the SNP with a mountain to climb. The fundamentals would then be massively against Scotland voting for independence. The reason is that the transition from leaving the UK to joining the EU is liable to leave Scotland neither in the UK’s internal market nor in the EU’s Single Market at least for a period of time. There can be no seamless transition for Scotland so long as the UK actually leaves the EU. Getting the UK out of the EU before indyref2 was our first task. This is now within our grasp.

What sort of EU deal would Scotland get? We have no idea. But it could not possibly be as good as now. It must involve paying a larger membership fee for there would be no rebate. It might involve a hard border with England. Even if the Republic of Ireland can maintain an open border with Northern Ireland, this is because the Republic of Ireland is an EU member and everyone realises that decades of terrorism creates a special case situation. We don’t know what if any objections countries like Spain might have to Scotland’s membership. The SNP also are going to have to explain why they want to give up powers that the Scottish Parliament has just begun to exercise over matters such as fishing. If Scotland were to join the EU from scratch we would have to create our own currency and then promise to join the Euro and also Schengen. None of this looks very appealing.

After getting us out of the EU, the UK Government’s task will be to delay indyref2 until we see how Brexit is working out. Luckily this is in the Conservative manifesto. It is absolutely crucial that the SNP should have to win an absolute majority at the next Scottish Parliament election on a clear, unambiguous manifesto commitment to holding indyref2. SNP support is in decline and is likely to decline still further as the Brexit process continues. If the SNP fail to gain an overall majority at the Scottish Parliament then our long constitutional nightmare which started in 2007 will be over. No majority, then no vote for indyref2. That’s it. It will then be over. The SNP’s dream will be dead until and unless they once more get an overall Scottish Parliament majority.

We are close folks. The only threat is a snap election and a Corbyn coalition with the SNP. Other than that we are almost there. It is for this reason that I am rather pleased that Theresa May’s Government is propped up by the DUP. They must know that Northern Ireland’s future in the UK depends on Scotland remaining in the UK also. For this reason if they are sensible they won’t push too hard, nor ask for too much.

The Pro UK task is simply this. Let us get through the next few years. Get us out of the EU as cleanly as possible and as advantageously as possible, but above all get us out. This will automatically over time work towards unifying the UK as we face the task together of building a new future. Continue to put obstacles in the way of the SNP. Delay, obfuscate, do what is necessary to stop indyref2 before the next Scottish Parliament elections. This is not a problem so long as we have a Prime Minister who is willing to stand firm.  I hope for this reason that we keep Theresa May for as long as possible.

The SNP’s position had extended far beyond their supply lines and had become untenable. This is why Nicola Sturgeon has decided to retreat. But I don’t think she is fully aware of the reason for her defeat. She thought that she could use Brexit to build herself a bridge to independence. But her strategy was built on the assumption that Brexit was going to help her argument, instead it destroyed it. She now has no bridge. It wasn’t only too far. While Sturgeon thought she was approaching her bridge it was all the time receding into the distance.

This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: http://effiedeans.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/the-snp-goal-is-receding-into-distance.html

About Effie Deans

Profile photo of Effie Deans
Effie Deans is a pro UK blogger who works at the University of Aberdeen. She spent many years living in Russia and the Soviet Union, but came home to Scotland so as to enjoy living in a multi-party democracy! When not occupied with Scottish politics she writes fiction and thinks about theology, philosophy and Russian literature.

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